Changing the past

I love e-books, especially on my Kindle, but Nicholas Carr or the Wall Street Journal has some interesting ideas on the danger of e-books.

[A]s is often the case with digitization, the boon carries a bane. The ability to alter the contents of a book will be easy to abuse. School boards may come to exert even greater influence over what students read. They’ll be able to edit textbooks that don’t fit with local biases. Authoritarian governments will be able to tweak books to suit their political interests. And the edits can ripple backward. Because e-readers connect to the Internet, the works they contain can be revised remotely, just as software programs are updated today. Movable text makes a lousy preservative.

This is not an impossible problem to overcome. It is not difficult to compare versions of documents. In the digital age, version control is even easier than when monks copied out books by hand one by one.

Carr goes on to eulogize the death of the solidity of books.

Not long before he died, John Updike spoke eloquently of a book’s “edges,” the boundaries that give shape and integrity to a literary work and that for centuries have found their outward expression in the indelibility of printed pages. It’s those edges that give a book its solidity, allowing it to stand up to the vagaries of fashion and the erosions of time. And it’s those edges that seem fated to blur as the words of books go from being stamped permanently on sheets of paper to being rendered temporarily on flickering screens.

But really, what is a book before you read it? After you read it? It only is what it is as you are consuming its content.

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